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The Doomsday Spiral
By Jon Land
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Jon Land
All rights reserved.
"ÂHLAN WI SÁHLAN! ... Âhlan wi sáhlan!"
The tall man moved steadily through the Cairo Bazaar in the center of the still ancient part of the city. His pace was seasoned and sure, each step purposeful. The paved dirt that formed the street beneath him had been baked by the mid-afternoon Egyptian sun, so that it was dry and brittle and seemed to crack under his determined strut. His brow was soaked with sweat but he dared not wipe it, because he knew that the dark brown skin coloring might come off with the moisture that bonded it to his flesh.
Instead, his hands remained coiled by their sides, swaying to-and-fro in rhythm with his pace. Dressed in white tunic and cap, the tall man melded perfectly with those around him in the crowded square, lined on both sides with outdoor shops, the voices of their smiling proprietors booming boisterously above the rest of the unrestrained hubbub.
"Authentic Egyptian wares! Bargains today! ... Bargains today!"
The words were repeated in four languages for the benefit of tourists. Other points were made in quieter fashion, sales soon to follow. Few left the square empty-handed.
But the tall man was interested in a different kind of merchandise. Fourteen children had been murdered. He was here to learn where the terrorist responsible could be found ... one way or another.
The tall man picked up a churning sound to his rear, mixing with a slight but regular squeak. An alarm went off in his head. His defenses readied instinctively for attack. But the alarm was false, the attack nonexistent. A boy passed harmlessly by on a bicycle, peddling barefoot, balancing a tray of rounded bread loaves on his head.
The man cringed. An empty feeling formed in the pit of his stomach. He had been only a few seconds and steps away from killing the boy. There had been a second of indecision, of doubt. His mind had been wandering, his thoughts on the past instead of the present.
How many streets like this had he walked down? How many countries had he entered under one name and departed under another? How many men had he killed?
The questions bothered the tall man, not because they lacked answers so much as he had raised them in the first place. After two years, he had hoped things would have returned to the way they once were. They hadn't. His eyes still saw two sides of a problem which could have only one. The icy coldness remained a state of mind instead of being. He would have to push for it now, push hard.
It was actually a long chain of events which led to the man leaving the Game twenty-six months before. But in looking back he remembered only one incident.
A bomb had gone off in a kibbutz, killing three and injuring a dozen. The man had followed the trail of the PLO culprit to a flophouse in Jerusalem. He kicked down a door, pistol in hand, and burst into a sixth floor room that stank of urine. In a corner chair sat a boy no more than fourteen, his face dimly illuminated by light spilling in the window.
"I've been waiting for you, Alabaster," the boy said.
The tall man studied the dark Arab features and black curls that swam across the young forehead. He raised the gun but could not fire it.
"What are you waiting for?" the boy asked.
Alabaster could not answer. Something in him was breaking. Or perhaps it had already broken. The pistol felt heavy and uncomfortable in his hand.
"Don't bother trying to interrogate me, I won't answer any of your questions," the boy continued staunchly. "You can torture me all you want but I won't talk. I won't talk!"
"I didn't come here to ask questions."
"Of course not. The great Alabaster, the great hunter never has any questions to ask. He merely comes for the kill." The boy rose, pointing to the center of his sweat-soaked shirt. "Well, I'm ready to die. Go ahead, fire your gun. Gain your Jewish vengeance. Right here, in the heart." The boy was trembling now. "My life doesn't matter. You can't kill all of us. There will be more bombs. More of your people will die." Alabaster remained motionless. The boy again pointed at the center of his shirt. His trembling had increased. "Go ahead. Why waste any more of your precious time?"
"I won't kill you," the Israeli said. He lowered his Browning automatic pistol. "Get out of here. Go back to your people."
"I'm giving you your life. Get out of here before I change my mind."
"I want you to change it. I want you to kill me here and now."
Alabaster studied the youth before him. A boy turned into a monster by the world he had helped create. "You have not lived long enough to become a martyr."
"I was born a martyr, as all my people are thanks to yours." A pause. "I'll make you kill me! I'll make you!"
He lunged forward, waiting for the pistol to explode before him. It never did. Instead, Alabaster sidestepped his charge and tripped the boy up, sending him reeling face first onto the floor. He rose sobbing and rushed again. This time Alabaster twisted his shoulders and stepped into the center of the charge, using the boy's own momentum to send him into a headlong dive. The boy rose to his knees in an absurd position of prayer. He was breathing hard, shaking violently.
"Now get out of here," Alabaster said softly. "Go home."
With an anguished scream, the boy rose to his feet and ran for the window. Alabaster leaped to stop him but was too late. Glass exploded. There was one long hideous wail that stretched into oblivion as flesh and bone collided with concrete. Blood ran and pooled on the sidewalk.
Alabaster felt sick. The questioning had begun and continued for much of the past two years.
What the hell did it matter anyway?
Kill one and another took his place. The circle swirls unbroken, closing in. It was all pointless and futile. So Alabaster had left the Game, for good he thought, until he realized it was too much a part of him. He could turn his back on it but somehow the urge to twist his shoulders and glance behind him would always be there. He had stopped hating yet he had never stopped caring. That was the problem.
So when a terrorist bomb had blown up a school bus in Tel Aviv killing fourteen children, Alabaster decided it was time to return. He had learned from an informant in Beirut that Arab terrorist Abad Salim was the proprietor. And he had come to Cairo to find out Salim's hiding place from a second informant named Marabi. His sources told him Marabi could be trusted as much as any pigeon which still meant he could not be trusted at all.
Up ahead in the crowded square, Alabaster saw the rendezvous point. His sharp, unfeeling eyes scanned the area as he veered to his right in the direction of an alley. Licking the salt from his lips, he passed slowly into the shadows, at once missing the bright welcome sun above him.
His eyes quickly adjusted to the half-darkness, making out an Egyptian in a white suit and black turban wearing sunglasses before him. On either side of the Egyptian stood a man in an outdated brown leisure suit and white turban, the one on the right being significantly taller and broader than his counterpart. Alabaster did not recall their presence being mentioned as part of the bargain.
"You are Alabaster," said the Egyptian, removing his sunglasses and scrutinizing the man before him.
The Israeli had narrowed the gap between them to less than a yard. "And you are Marabi?"
"At your service." The Egyptian forced a slight bow. It was easy to hate Marabi which was good because Alabaster needed to hate now more than ever.
"It would seem so, considering how easy it was for me to set up this meeting."
The Egyptian allowed himself a bright smile. "I am told that when Alabaster wants something, making yourself scarce only delays the issue."
"My reputation precedes me."
"Indeed, as does your code name, which I assume it is. I'm interested in its origins. Did you choose 'Alabaster'?"
"For now, Marabi, the questions are mine. Where is Abad Salim?"
"Salim, Salim ... Am I supposed to know this man?"
"Since he is a leading figure in Black September and you were once one of that organization's top operatives, I should hope so."
Marabi shrugged. "That was long ago, Alabaster. I have lost all contact with my former associates."
"Oh? Then you haven't been in Lebanon lately?"
"How strange. You were seen leaving a hotel there not three days ago with a number of your 'former associates'."
"I haven't been in Beirut in nearly a year."
"Who said the hotel was in Beirut?"
The Egyptian's dark skin whitened a bit. "All the same I cannot help you find this Salim. I don't even know what he looks like. It was so long ago. His name strikes only a vague chord in my memory." Marabi placed his sunglasses in his breast pocket. His English was virtually flawless and only slightly accented.
"Then let me refresh it," Alabaster said sharply. "In 1970, Yassir Arafat created what became known as the Special Operations Apparatus, Jihaz al-Amaliyat al-Khassa: Black September, Marabi, also known as Al Fatah. The charge of the Apparatus was to undertake terrorist actions across the globe to gain attention for the cause of the PLO at the same time the PLO fought to gain credibility as a legitimate nation. Arafat's plan, simply stated, was to fuse two objectives into one and maintain the best of both worlds. Abad Salim became one of the original leaders of the Black September world, though I understand he has fallen out of favor recently." Alabaster's eyes moved from Marabi to his bodyguards. Their action would have to come soon.
"In the circles I travel in, Alabaster, you have always been known as somewhat of a legend," Marabi said coolly. "A bounty hunter who accepts no bounty. A master of disguise. A man whose true identity is not known even in the highest levels of the Mossad itself. A vigilante.... I have heard much rejoicing from my former associates since your sudden disappearance two years ago. These have been pleasant times for them indeed without you lurking around in the shadows."
"I'm sorry to spoil their fun."
"They always knew you'd come back. But I'm afraid you've picked the wrong time. Your trail has gone cold. I have heard of Abad Salim but don't recall ever meeting him. I have no idea where he is today."
"A week ago he was in Tel Aviv killing fourteen children and crippling twenty more."
"Ah yes, the bombing. Believe it or not, I was quite disgusted with that myself." Marabi tried to sigh and failed. "Believe me, if I knew anything I would tell you."
"Your intentions are meaningless to me. I want information."
"I can't provide it."
"You had better try."
"Toward what end?"
Alabaster nodded slowly, the traces of a smile flickering across his lips. "A rumor is circulating in Israel that you are and always have been a Mossad spy. Your 'former associates' might not take kindly to you if that rumor were to, by chance, reach them. Cooperate with me and I'll make sure it's suppressed."
"And I am supposed to trust you?"
"You don't have a choice."
"Hah!" Marabi glanced at the bodyguards on either side of him. They stood silent and still, not seeming to blink. "You're speaking fairy tales, Alabaster. Nothing but fairy tales."
"People die in fairy tales, Marabi, often quite violently. Almost as violently as those children did in Tel Aviv. They cry out from their graves, begging for retribution against the man responsible for their murders. I hear those cries, Marabi. I hear them so clearly, I can't sleep. That is why I have returned. But you are going to help me rest easier. You are going to tell me where I can find Abad Salim."
"And what do you offer in return?"
The Egyptian's eyes flared with rage. He stepped back, swallowed by the frames of his bodyguards. "And how many other Palestinian lives have you taken? How many of those remote control devices have you planted? You want to wipe us out single-handedly, is that it? But you made one grave mistake when you dared assassinate the beloved Abu Hassan. That turned the fear we felt for you to hate. A price was put on your head, a hefty price. So you ran and hid but you finally came back as we always knew you would. It will give me great pleasure to claim the blood money, though the satisfaction of killing you will be payment in itself. Enjoy your last breath, Jew!"
The words were meant to distract Alabaster, to draw his eyes into a vengeful visual embrace with Marabi's so that when the Egyptian's bodyguards made their move, there would be no quick reaction to counter it.
But there was.
As the smaller man on the left drew his gun, Alabaster hurdled over the diving form of Marabi. In a blur, he had spun quickly to his left, planting his right foot as a pivot point. The back of his right fist then shot out at the man holding the gun, crashing into the bridge of his nose and shattering bones upon impact. Blood poured in a steady stream from both nostrils. The gun fell from the man's hand as he brought his fingers up in a futile effort of comfort for his shattered face.
Almost simultaneously, Alabaster's left elbow had found its way into the larger man's solar plexus. But the blow was not so strong as it might have been and the large, well-muscled man merely recoiled backwards without doubling over. When the Israeli approached again, he saw a long shiny blade in his opponent's hand, glinting in the faint light of the alley. The man smiled, obviously confident of his prowess with the weapon. But Alabaster didn't notice the smile because he knew that looking at any one part of the body was an invitation to be tricked by false motion. He saw all of the man while seeing none of him.
So when the long blade shot out toward his stomach in a glistening blur, Alabaster was able to turn quickly and deflect the strike, grabbing the man's hand as it passed by. Reflexively, he then jerked the wrist in the opposite direction, pushing down with his right hand while twisting with his left. The large bodyguard was suddenly airborne, separated from the handle, crashing into the hard surface some five feet away. He tried to stagger back to his feet but Alabaster was quickly upon him with a vicious kick to the temple. The man slumped backwards with a gasp, eyes closing.
By this time, the smaller bodyguard, his sight clouded over by a painful mist, had begun to grope for the steel of the revolver on the dust-soaked ground beneath him, moving his hands about in desperate circles. Finally he had it in his grasp, or almost did, because before his fingers could close around the handle, a swift foot sliced through the air and swept the gun away from him. The bodyguard scrambled for it again, fighting to get back on his feet. He never did. Alabaster lashed out with a perfectly timed uppercut to the man's chin that lifted him off the ground before tumbling him to the cool dirt of the alley. He landed unconscious with a sharp thud, blood still oozing from what was left of his nose.
Seeing this, Marabi began to crawl toward the alley's entrance. All at once, though, the tall man in the white tunic stood before him and blocked his path.
"Please!... Please!" Marabi's plea was barely audible.
Without straining, Alabaster hoisted the Egyptian to his feet, gripping him by the lapels, and slammed him backwards against a wall. His strength seemed unreal.
"You ask me for pity, Marabi? After all this, you ask me for pity?"
The Egyptian was shaking with fear, breathing in rapid thrusts. "If I tell you what you want to know, will you still kill me?"
"If you don't, I most certainly will."
"I need more of an assurance than that."
"You won't get it." Alabaster tightened his grip across Marabi's chest, twisting the Egyptian's shirt across his windpipe. He continued to increase the pressure until Marabi's face turned scarlet red and then gradually eased off. "Now tell me where I can find Abad Salim or you will never talk again!"
The Egyptian swallowed a huge gulp of welcome air. "Haifa," he gasped. "Haifa ..."CHAPTER 2
Providence, Rhode Island
THE FOUR MEN had arrived for the meeting separately to draw the least possible attention to themselves. Stealth had been their way of life for more years than they could remember, so entering an obscure American city without capturing unwanted eyes posed only a minor challenge for them. A greater challenge was presented by their own apprehension over why they had been called to America from their stations in Beirut and Amman. America was always declared off limits. Something had changed.
It was very strange indeed, considering they were all leading operatives of Black September.
Each had received his instructions only seventy-two hours in advance as a precaution. The current operation, they were told simply, required extraordinary security measures. They did not ask why and heartily obeyed their orders which had come direct from Arafat himself. Something big was up, of that they were certain. And now they sat in the living room section of a Biltmore Plaza Hotel suite eagerly waiting to find out exactly what.
Excerpted from The Doomsday Spiral by Jon Land. Copyright © 1983 Jon Land. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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